From 1941-1945, nearly one in every three American men left home to serve in some WWII military capacity. Women in huge numbers were forced to enter the workplace to keep the economy running and supply civilian and military needs.
Women's fashion dramatically changed during this time to reflect the change in labor patterns. Millions of women were now working labor-intensive jobs in factories, power plants, government organizations, and more. Their new tasks included driving trucks, working in shipyards, and flying aircraft.
Fashion changed to emphasize function and safety over aesthetics and traditionally feminine style. Women's fashion during WWII took on a militarized look that resembled the U.S. military uniforms. Blouses and jackets now had shoulder pads and women's hats resembled Army berets. High-heels were out.
In the above news bulletin, women were encouraged to wear their hear up and tightly covered, and not to wear jewelry or clothing with cuffs. Hair was worn pinned up and back to avoid getting caught in machinery. Clothing now had fewer adornments. For the first time, khaki jackets and blue jeans became very popular amongst women.
This poster shows Rosie the Riveter, a fictional cultural icon popularized by the War Production Board during WWII to encourage women to enter wartime service in factories and shipyards. As can be seen by Rosie's outfit, slacks and headscarves became stylish for American women to wear.
Aside from function, women's dress also changed due to rationing of wool and silk that was needed for military uniforms and parachutes. Women's clothing during WWII was largely made from manufactured fibers such as rayon and viscose. When nylon use was restricted, stocking use declined. Fabric was also conserved by shortening skirts.
By 1945 an estimated over 6 million American women had joined the workforce. 25% of married women worked outside the home. Aside from making a major contribution to the war effort, these women left a lasting impact on the fashion world.